Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Chicago Beer Society

I'm not sure if I have written about my homebrew club, The Chicago Beer Society, on this blog before, but I thought I would for a number of reasons, which I'll enumerate on this handy-dandy bulleted list:

  • Last month I went to our annual picnic for the first time, and it was awesome. There were about 15 local brewery beers on tap, great food including the competition entries fron salsa, chili, ribs, and dessert contests, and fun, interesting people. The music wasn't great, the DJ played a lot of really obscure stuff and only one (beer-drinking) polka, but from the emails that went around afterwards, maybe they'll improve on this next year.
  • The monthly First Thursday is this Thursday, October 1st at Goose Island (As the name implies, it's always held on the first Thursday of the month.) I don't always attend, but I will be there this month. It's always a fun time, sometimes there are presentations, but mostly it's a big homebrew and craft beer tasting with a bunch of people who really appreciate beer.
  • The annual Chicago Beer Society homebrew contest, Spooky Brew, will be held on October 31st. I'm entering a couple of my brews, including Your Mother's Mustache, Topfglück Alt, and possibly my Vienna Lager, Schwarzes Modell. They are accepting entries at the monthly First Thursday (sometimes called Thirst Fursday), which is why I'll definitely be attending.

Now I called it my homebrew club, but it's really much more than that. It's an organization of people who enjoy and appreciate well-made beer. Members are homebrewers, beer judges, professional brewers, beer industry insiders, beer authors, and just plain beer drinkers. If you're in Chicago and you fit any of these categories, it's definitely worth checking out.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Drying and Bagging Hops

It's still Hop Week here at Noble Square Brewing so let's talk about Hops! I got done drying and bagging the hops I harvested from my folks' garden. I planted Chinook and Hallertau there last year, 3 rhisomes each. Only one of each type grew--they had flooding in the area I planted them in early spring. Only the Chinook produced a couple of cones last year. This year both plants produced some cones, but not much. I really didn't tend the plants at all--no additional water, fertilizer or anything. I didn't even trim them back, I just put up some saisal for them to grow up the side of the garage. You can see one of the Chinook cones above; the yellow powder is the lupulin.

After I removed the cones from the bines, I dried the hops by leaving them out on a window screen perched horizontally over two books in the hottest part of the house. They dried out in a couple of days. Then it was time to bag them.

I got the above "Handi-Vac™ and bags for free last year. They were just handing them out on in Daley Plaza. I guess they figured you would use the included bags, get hooked, and be lured into a lifetime of buying replacement bags from Reynolds. As soon as I saw them, I immediately thought, "I could use that for my hops!" I grabbed two of them, one for me and one for my Brew Bud Pete.

I have to admit they are "Handi", although I have yet to buy any additional bags. I have reused the bags from last years hop harvest, although they may not be designed to be reused. Sometimes they don't maintain a vaccuum seal. They idea is that you fill the bag, seal it like a regular Zip-Loc™ type bag, and then use the "Handi-Vac™" to suck the extra air out of the bag by placing the tip of the "Handi-Vac™" on the blue circle on the bag. Like I said, they work well, although not so well on reused bags. I guess I'll go out and buy the bags. Who knows, maybe the product launch failed and they don't sell them anymore.

Oh yeah, after I seal the bags of hops, I toss them in the freezer. And one more thing, "™" is Alt+0153 on your numerical keyboard if you were wondering.

Señor Brew™

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Hops, Hops, Hops!

It's still Hop Week here at Noble Square Brewing, so let's talk about hops. I harvested these Hallertau from my folks place. Yes, they are turning brown. I wasn't able to get out there to harvest them at the peak of their ripeness, but I'll take what I can get. They still smell delicious, grassy, flowery, with a hint of spicyness. They're currently drying on a window screen.

Green Shoots!

No it's not the green shoots in the economy that everybody was talking about a couple of months ago--it's still Hops Week here at Noble Square Brewing, and we are talking about new green shoots on my Saaz hops as you can see in the photo above.

For those of you that follow this blog (we're up to 14 now--15 if you count Señor Brew™ himself), you might remember that I had a little spider mite infestation. Well, I sprayed insecticide twice, and the hops that weren't already terminally ill rebounded and started new growth. You can see the bright green leaves against the background of brown half dead leaves. Now granted, it is way too late in the season for me to expect any hop flower growth--the flowers (or cones, in hop vernacular) being where the bittering and flavoring agents come from, but still, it is nice to see a rebound, and with this late leaf growth I can only assume that the roots are growing as well, which means more hardy plants for next year.

Curious about what a spider mite infestation looks like? I took some photos. This one shows what the early stage looks like. At this stage it's easy to confuse it for other conditions, such as a lack of water or nutrients. The telltale sign of spider mites is a spidery silk web on the underside of the leaves, which unfortunately I didn't get a photo of. The mites are too small to be seen with the naked eye, but the damage they cause and the webbing they leave is highly visible.

This photo shows an advanced stage of spider mite damage. If you haven't already sprayed for mites, and your hop leaves look like this, consider your hops harvest a lost cause by now. However, as I mentioned earlier, it might still be a good idea to spray, to get some late growth. In my case, I'm hoping the late growth leads to stronger plants next year.

This photo shows the ultimate stage of a spider mite infestation. The mites will literally suck your hops dry, leaving a dry, desicated ruin of your hops. Let this be a warning to all the home hop growers out there--if you notice any evidence of spider mites, be sure to spray an insecticide that has been proven effective against them. For those hop growers that want to stay organic, I have read that keeping your hop leaves moist will cut down on the damage that spider mites can do. Of course, moist hop plants can lead to powdery mildew, which is a whole 'nother problem for hop growers.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Hops Week

It's hops week here at Noble Square Brewing. "Why?" you may ask. Because Señor Brew™ said so. Actually it's for a number of reasons, mainly because I'm going to post about hops all week. So where do we start? Why don't we take inventory of what hops I have on hand for brewing?
I've brewed with some of the hops in the above photo since I took it, but it's a good indication of where we stand at Noble Square Brewing, especially since we're going to add to it with some recently (and soon to be) harvested hops. (That's another reason it's hops week).

So here are the varieties of humulus lupus currently on hand:
Galena 13.1% AA 4 oz.
Williamette 4.8% AA 17 oz.
Simcoe ?? AA 4 oz.
Magnum 10.4% AA 9 oz.
Hallertau 3.0% AA 15 oz.
Tettnanger 3.3% AA 11 oz.

I don't know the alpha acid content of the Simcoe because I traded some Magnum for them with fellow Brew Bud Russ Chibes, and forgot to write down what they were. Maybe he'll comment here and enlighten me. Actually, now that I look at the photo, it's clearly written on the bag that they are 13.5%--it just wore off with the combination of condensation and handling of the bag. The pictured hops that have since been used were an ounce of Centennial and a couple of ounces of Columbus. So that's where I stand, but I have a hop harvest coming soon. Russ, please still feel free to comment on this post.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Omega King Scoresheet

A couple of readers have asked about the scoresheet comments on the Omega King IPA, which took first in it's category inthe B.U.Z.Z. Brewoff, so here they are.

It was scored by two judges, J. Sparrow, a Master BJCP judge, and Jeff Albarella, a novice. J. scored it a 35 and Jeff a 37, which put it in the top end of the "Very Good" category. In this case, "Very Good" was "Good Enough" to take home a blue ribbon. On to the comments:

J: Notable piney aroma balanced by ample citrus esters, moderate carmel malt in background.
Jeff: Dominant citrus hop aroma, balanced with sweet malty graininess

J: Adden? (can't read this word) Bright Wispy off-white foam quickly fades
Jeff: Golden Orange color, slightly hazy, little to no head retention

J: Initial pungent bitterness balanced by a moderate carmelly malt character. Noteable citrus esters. Finishes bitter though not oppressive
Jeff: Well banlanced flavor, nice hp flavor of citrus/pineapple, finish is clean, but a bit watery, nice clean fermentation

J. Body a bit thin and carbonation low (close to flat) For style very moderate hop astringency
Jeff: Light Bodied and a bit watery at finish, good carbonation level

Overall Impression:
J: Low body and condition detract from an otherwise pleasant IPA with notes of pine and citrus. This is where the parts definitely affect the whole. But still a pleasant IPA.
Jeff: Very drinkable well-balanced beer, could use sugary more malt character to thicken the malt feel at finish. Nice smooth hop character.

So it looks like I scored lowest in the Mouthfeel area. When I brew this again, I'll increase the mash temperature from the original 152F to 156F and see if that makes a difference. I wonder if each judge tasted from a different bottle, since one commented on the low carbonation, while the other said it was well carbonated.

Next I'll post the comments on the beers that didn't win, since I have more to learn from those.